IGN Review of Hoshigami Remix: Ruining Blue Earth
Like the GBA, Nintendo DS is now getting the Strategy Role-Playing Game bug. Hoshigami Remix is leading the pack, soon-to-be followed by Luminous Arc, and then topped off with the triumphant return of Final Fantasy Tactics for Nintendo's touch system. So while the first title out the gate by Aksys Games isn't a complete wash of a game - it will be quite the contrary for some of the more hardcore SRPG fans - it's a tough sell for a little-utilized genre on DS that's set to explode. Hoshigami Remix takes the original PSX cult classic and reworks it with new branching stories, new music, new characters, and over 50 hours of gameplay, but in the end it creates a niche so small that many of even the most diehard DS fans will want to pass this up for future pocket glory.
As a game that was originally paired with the release of Final Fantasy Tactics on PlayStation, Hoshigami is exactly what you'd expect from a token strategy role-playing game. Players take control of a young lad named Fazz and his loyal friend Leimrey as they stalk across the world map in search of blade-breaking action. Along the way you'll amass a merry band of mercenaries, and begin the age-old task of equipping them, training them, leveling them up, and assigning spells and new attacks along the way. Hoshigami Remix takes obvious influence from Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre, with the battlefield being shown in a isometric 2D/3D presentation. The battlefield itself is created with 3D modeling and classic pixel art overlaid, while the character art is entirely 2D in classic fashion. When hitting L or R the battle zone (which is essentially a virtual game board) can rotate, which will simultaneously flip any on-screen sprite art in the process. In this way Hoshigami Remix allows players to see the action from four different sides while still keeping the 2D feel alive.
And though the action in battle is pretty impressive, Hoshigami falls into numerous traps of "B-type" RPGs. For starters, the menu system is entirely drab and often made up of monotone selection boxes in front of simple blue and white blended backdrops. You've seen these backdrops before in virtually any RPG on the face of the planet - particularly the Final Fantasy series - with the two-color menu scheme almost burning into your skull in 80s "background-less" glory. The entirety of the interface follows suit as well, with menus and navigation being less than impressive, while the clear text and easily touchable icons keep the out-of-battle experience simple, quick, but uninspired as well. The storytelling instances also keep the same drab, freshman look and tone, and though the story isn't exactly compelling, heart-wrenching, or even that necessary, the token RPG plot points are hit throughout, keeping the game from becoming an overly-simplified arena battler.
Where Hoshigami hits though, it hits hard. If you're somewhat of a hardcore RPG fan you've come across strategy RPGs at least once or twice, and most everyone knows the general look at feel of these turn-based, almost chess-like battles between units. Archers can't attack at short rage, mages will need to take time to pull off the really amazing spells, and attacks are stronger from the side or back. Believe it or not - it's really a stretch of the imagination, after all - but Hoshigami uses all those fundamental rules, and it wraps the action up in an elemental-based magic and weapon system, so fire, water, earth, and wind attributes will all come into play. This is nothing new for a seasoned SRPG fan - which you'll need to be to overcome the game's finer points - but what is, new are two battle factors that end up making the experience far more enjoyable than any other token strategy game. Hoshigami implements a RAP (ready-for-action point) Gauge, which determines how much a unit can do in any given turn. Moving, attacking, item use, and magic all takes a chunk off your RAP Gauge. The more you use in a turn, the longer you'll need to wait for that player to recover.
There's a ton of strategy found in this formula though, as skilled players will become masters of the RAP Gauge in no time at all. In one turn you could effectively move into combat range, attack twice, heal an ally, and then move back out of combat range. Most characters won't have that kind of stamina, but it's fairly common to get movement and a few attacking shots within one single turn, and that's a nice change from the usual move-for-move feel of tactics games. Along those same lines, players can use the RAP Gauge to actually slot a character perfectly in the on-screen lineup by manually adding to the amount of bar used post-turn. If, for example, you want a healing mage to have a turn between two enemy turns, just use some final RAPs on "defend" at the end of your turn. As you add and subtract to the bar, a position icon will change, letting you not only decide what each player does during his specific turn, but also when they'll get their next turn.
Aside from the RAP Gauge (which we suggest every strategy game adopt from here on out) Hoshigami tries to mix up the action with a few other gameplay innovations. Players have the ability to set up "Shoot" attacks, which create huge combos that score impressive damage. When attacking players will deal damage based on an on-screen power meter similar to a token "golf meter." The closer to the top, the stronger the attack. This meter comes in to types though, and players have the option to either shoot for a critical attack, or change instead to the "shoot" mode. If successful in shoot mode, the enemy will be shot across the screen in classic knock-back fashion. If that enemy hits a waiting teammate of the attacker, a combo session begins, effectively kicking the ever-loving crap out of the target.
The other main addition to the gameplay comes with the magic system, which is based around coins and deity worship. Based on which deity a player is currently selected on he'll acquire new skills and make use of different attack magic through coins. These coins can be upgraded to increase attack power and range, and while a strong magic system is key in any strategy game it can become far too powerful in just a short time. After eight or so hours with the game, magic could very well become the primary attack type for even your most dedicated swordsmen, virtually negating the use of any close-range attacks. It's all about how you play the game, but an experienced RPG vet may want to select the hardest of Hoshigami's three play levels from the beginning, or you may find yourself kicking the crap out of unsuspecting enemy fodder.
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